letteratura mondo
ISSN 2281-1966

Who Needs ‘Italianness’?: Postcolonial and Migration Italian Literature

By Giuliana Benvenuti

The fact that questions such as ‘Who are Italians?’, ‘What does it mean to be Italian?’ or even ‘Is there such a thing as an Italian?’ and ‘Is it possible to talk about Italian people with their own distinctive characteristics?’ have been asked, sometimes controversially and sometimes obsessively (but always pressingly), from the unification of Italy to the present day shows the complexity and struggle involved in constructing national unity, not only in the early Risorgimento phase but also afterwards. Even today, certain stereotypes about Italians’ ‘character’ and ‘temperament’ and about the differences between North and South Italians are drawn upon and re-elaborated in political discourse.
This article, however, set out to examine the representations proposed in various phases of Italian history of the Italian character and people (as has been done in great detail in Silvana Patriarca’s recent volume, Italianità, Patriarca 2010 ). Nor will it analyse the marked continuity – even though it does exist and is extremely relevant – between some of these representations, the discourse on Italianness and the use of the image of two Italies currently encountered in various government statements and on certain columnists’ pages. Should a glance at the transformations of the concept of Italianness become necessary, it will be but a rapid introduction to the issue that I wish to examine in greater detail: the transformations brought about by the presence of immigrants from more than 192 countries, which are modifying the social, economic, political and cultural framework of the country. I shall try to analyse some elements of the transformations taking place, adopting as my starting point postcolonial and migration literatures, writings that offer the traditional and widely accepted connection between language, nation and citizenship.


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